Guest Post: Called of God, In Spite of Man (or to Spite Man?) — Choosing to Be a Sister Missionary in the Face of Opposition
I had always wanted to serve a mission, which, ironically, was my way of asserting my independence in the heart of Mormon Country. My friends were all getting married and starting families, and I was busy with my nursing studies, while traveling the world in various humanitarian capacities. Amongst these endeavours, I wanted to include a mission for the Church. I did not have the slightest desire to share the gospel through proselyting, but I felt very strongly that a mission is where I needed to go next. I trusted that the Lord knew what he was doing.
I submitted my papers just before leaving for a six month internship in Southern Africa. Normally at the time, a call would take about three weeks to arrive. Mine still had not arrived four months later. My stake president called several times to “Downtown” to find out what the hold up was, and was told by a “higher up” that my papers were being held for a specific mission. Since certain missions are on the docket each week to receive new assignees, “mine” was down the line a bit. I was told that the mission committee felt strongly that I was to serve in a particular mission and they were waiting for that mission to be on the agenda.
Finally, five months after submitting my papers, I received my call: a very poor country in South America, as a welfare services missionary. It was perfect. I felt like this was my calling; I was destined for it. It was inspired. It was where I was supposed to serve. I could continue humanitarian work for the Church, without the pressures of proselyting in the traditional sense.
I returned from Africa with only four short weeks to prepare for my mission. It was a whirlwind of excitement and emotion, for my frazzled mother in particular. I was thrilled that I was chosen specifically for this mission, and it quashed many of the nagging thoughts I had been having about the status of women in the Church. I was called. I was needed as a sister missionary.
Then General Conference came one week before my MTC date. My father returned home from priesthood session on Saturday night, looking very concerned. “What happened?” I queried. “The prophet spoke very strongly about young women and missionary service.” He tried to summarize for me, and I was appalled. I was devastated. I felt betrayed and humiliated. In essence, President Hinckley stated that only men should serve missions. That there would be some women who want to serve, and they may, if they pray about it and the “idea persists”, but they shouldn’t be encouraged to go. He stated very plainly that “We need some women. They can get in doors that the elders cannot,” as well as confirmed that there is an age discrepancy between elders and sisters to discourage women from serving missions. He even went so far as to “confess” that he had two granddaughters on missions, though they did not consult him in any way before submitting their papers. Good for them. I can only imagine how they would feel coming away from that conversation, should they have spoken with him first. However, I can also imagine they must have been heartbroken hearing those words while in the mission field, not only from the prophet, but their grandfather. The final straw, as I read the report of the priesthood session online, was that the prophet concluded with “[This] may appear to be something of a strange thing to say in priesthood meeting. I say it here because I do not know where else to say it. The bishops and stake presidents of the Church have now heard it. And they must be the ones who make the judgment in this matter.”
I was crushed. My strong conviction that I was doing what the Lord wanted me to do vanished in an instant. My testimony that I was called to this particular mission at this particular time, because I was needed there, was terribly shaken. I instantly felt squashed like a bug, put in my place, and left as an unimportant and unnecessary woman. Worst of all, the prophet that I had followed diligently wouldn’t even tell it to my face…to the women…but decided that priesthood session, excluding all women, was the appropriate place for such a declaration. This is in spite of the fact that the General Relief Society meeting was the previous week.
I had already committed to the mission. I was leaving one week later. I couldn’t turn back now; I had already had my fanfare farewell. I had a decision to make: go on my mission and be a submissive and unnecessary sister missionary, which is how I now believed the church saw us as women; cancel the mission in protest, but knowing the protest would fall on deaf ears and accomplish nothing to remedy this situation; or fulfill my mission, use the time to complete the work I felt I was destined to do, and raise Hell in the church from that time forth.
I chose the latter.
I was a strong-willed sister missionary. I served the people of my South American mission with all I had in me. I used my nursing and humanitarian background, coupled with my faith, to teach welfare principles holistically: spiritual, physical, familial, financial and health. I truly believed that I was where I was supposed to be. I changed lives, and in turn, my life was changed by others. I rarely taught discussions. I rarely knocked on doors. I had few baptisms. Yet I feel my mission was my life’s greatest work to date. I did it, and I did it my way, with my own inspiration directly from the Lord. I don’t remember a thing my mission president taught, but I remember every direct inspiration I received from personal prayer to make life better for others.
My mission was my calling. It came officially by way of the patriarchal priesthood of the Church, but it was actually given directly to me, before that, through my own personal revelation. The patriarchs of the Church tried to deter me from what the Lord wanted, and in that moment, I knew. I knew that my life’s religion would not be Mormonism. It would be aspects of Mormonism, made pure in my life by the inspiration I receive directly from my Heavenly Father. It would be a life mission to help other women reach their full potential, and find a way to have a voice in this patriarchal Church. I still believe the principles of the gospel to be true, in their purest sense. However, I no longer see it through the eyes of my oppressors, but with my own clear vision and autonomy.